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Malott strikes it rich

A sign in the stands encouraged the big Texan to throw Malott-a strikes.

He obliged.

Wes Malott got off to fast starts in both of his matches Sunday and won the seventh Lumber Liquidators Earl Anthony Medford Classic at Lava Lanes.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder from Argyle, Texas, won his third Denny's Professional Bowlers Association title with a 255-193 victory over rookie sensation Rhino Page.

Dubbed the "Great Right Hope" because he was the only right-hander in the field on an oil pattern that was kind to left-handers all week, Malott rolled four consecutive strikes to open the championship match. He was never in jeopardy after the 24-year-old Page was hit by a split and an open in the third frame.

For his victory, Malott earned $25,000, a Rolex watch as a trophy, courtesy of host center owner Ric Donnelly, and exempt status next season.

Malott got to the finals by racking up six straight strikes at the outset of a 245-235 win over Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III in the semifinals. Page defeated Patrick Allen in the other semifinal, 230-190.

Allen and Bohn each won titles in the first half of the season.

"One of the things I wanted to do was get off to fast start," said Malott. "I got the front six and the front four. Then I threw a bad shot (against Page). But I knew I had the lead and knew I just had to keep going and make good shots."

Malott had 17 strikes in the two matches. It was a different scenario than what he feared might play out as he threw warm-up shots under the bright lights required for the live national telecast by ESPN.

"I thought I was in trouble," said Malott. "They were a little tighter than they had been, and I threw a couple in the gutter."

But he figured it out quickly and had a relatively comfortable run in his second straight finals appearance here.

The question now is whether he will be the last of the Medford winners. The three-year contract the PBA had with Donnelly expired with the end of the tournament, and a deal has not yet been worked out to bring the tour back.

Donnelly and PBA Commissioner Fred Schreyer would both like to see the event continue. They've had preliminary talks and will resume discussions this week.

Malott had twice before been in position to win this season, losing in the finals at Merrillville, Ind., and Baltimore.

"It's not like I bowled badly those times," he said. "I bowled some very good games. Sometimes one shot means a lot out here."

The win raised his career record in championship matches to 3-6.

Against Page, Malott started with four strikes, then spared after leaving the 3 and 6 pins. He then put together three more strikes to close out Page, a non-exempt player in his third finals after advancing out of the qualifying round.

Page, the first rookie to make three championship rounds since Mike Durbin in 1967, struck on his first two balls, then lost it. He didn't put together back-to-back strikes the rest of the way.

"Even if I had thrown a couple of bad shots," said Malott, "I knew he was having some trouble. When that happens, it gives you confidence to make good shots."

Being the only right-hander allowed Malott the luxury of having to make fewer adjustments as the lane conditions broke down. And when it was necessary, he adjusted quickly because he'd been doing it all week while bowling alongside other righties.

Only nine left-handers were in the round of 64, and they largely had that side to themselves.

The tables turned on them Sunday.

Page was runner-up for the second time this season.

"I'm good at seconds," he joked, "and that's not a good thing to be good at."

Nerves weren't an issue, he said, but the changing conditions were.

"The lanes changed a lot," he said. "I saw some transitions I hadn't seen all week. I made good guesses, but when a guy throws 250 at you, that makes it awfully hard to beat him."

Despite not winning, Page appears destined to earn exempt status via the season-ending point rankings.

"I won my first match and gave myself a chance," said the Topeka, Kan., resident. "If I keep knocking on the door, it'll open sometime."

In his first match against Allen, who Page considers to be his mentor, the young gun got off a to hot start with five strikes in a row.

Allen struggled to find a good look and was done in when he chopped the 2-7 in the fourth frame for an open.

In his semifinal against Bohn, Malott sealed the match with an eight count on his first ball in the 10th. He had strikes in eight of the first nine frames.

Page earned $13,000 for second, Bohn $6,000 for third and Allen $6,000 for fourth.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Above: Wes Malott reacts to making a strike during the final. Left: Runnerup Rhino Page releases the ball during the final match against Malott at Lava Lanes on Sunday. - Jim Craven